Climate activists often warn that global warming is stoking forest fires, but it turns out the amount of land burned by wildfires worldwide has plummeted by 25% since 2003, according to NASA.
NASA’s Earth Observatory found that the number of total square kilometers burned globally each year has decreased steadily from 2003-19, based on data collected by Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS) on satellites.
NASA Goddard Space Flight scientist Niels Andela attributed the decline to increased farming in areas of the Global South and the use of machines instead of prescribed burns to clear crops.
“As populations have increased in fire-prone regions of Africa, South America, and Central Asia, grasslands and savannas have become more developed and converted into farmland,” the NASA post said. “As a result, longstanding habits of burning grasslands (to clear shrubs and land for cattle or other reasons) have decreased.”
Even as the acreage consumed by wildfires declined, James Randerson, University of California Irvine earth sciences professor, said climate change has played a role by making wildfires more intense.
“There are really two separate trends,” Mr. Randerson said. “Even as the global burned area number has declined because of what is happening in savannas, we are seeing a significant increase in the intensity and reach of fires in the western United States because of climate change.”
Despite the increase in farming, the amount of forest area worldwide grew by 2.24 million square kilometers from 1982-2016, as a net loss in the tropics was “outweighed by a net gain in the extratropics,” according to a November study in Nature.
“Forests are making a comeback!” said Bates College visiting assistant economics professor Vincent Geloso in a Monday post on the American Institute for Economic Research. “More precisely, the tree cover of the planet is increasing.”